If God Be For Us.
Joshua 17-18, Acts 14
And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” – Acts 18:9-10 ESV
It is interesting to note the parallels between the history of the people of Israel as they attempted to conquer the land and the New Testament saints as they attempted to spread the Gospel around the world. Both represent the people of God, having been commissioned by God to accomplish His will in the world. Both faced intense opposition, but had experienced the power and presence of God in significant ways. They each knew that God was with them. He had proven time and again that He was on their side. But He fully expected obedience to His commands – in spite of the opposition they faced, the fears they may have felt, and the seeming impossibility of their assignments. But the similarities begin to fade as we compare the book of Judges and the events recorded in the book of Acts. After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel still found themselves facing countless enemies who still occupy the land given to them by God. We repeatedly read of the failure of the people of Israel to rid the land of its pagan inhabitants.
And the Lord was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron. – Judges 1:19 ESV
But the people of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem… – Judges 1:21 ESV
Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages, for the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. – Judges 1:27 ESV
Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites… – Judges 1:29 ESV
Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron, or the inhabitants of Nahalol, so the Canaanites lived among them… – Judges 1:30 ESV
Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco, or the inhabitants of Sidon or of Ahlab or of Achzib or of Helbah or of Aphik or of Rehob, so the Asherites lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, for they did not drive them out… – Judges 1:31-32 ESV
Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh, or the inhabitants of Beth-anath, so they lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land. – Judges 1:33 ESV
The Amorites persisted in dwelling in Mount Heres, in Aijalon, and in Shaalbim… – Judges 1:35 ESV
The people of God had failed to do what God had commanded them to do. Either out of fear, laziness, indifference or as a result of their own “better” judgment, they refused to do things God’s way. And their disobedience brought God’s discipline. He made it clear what they were to do, but they had refused to obey. And while they might have rationalized that their efforts were adequate because they had ended up enslaving the very groups they had failed to destroy, God knew their half-hearted obedience was going to whole-hearted rebellion against Him. “You shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars. But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you” (Judges 2:2-3 ESV). The book of Judges is a painful history of this prophecy played out. The failure of the people of God to obey the commands of God would result in their ultimate apostasy from God. “And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth” (Judges 2:11-13 ESV).
What does this passage reveal about God?
God had a perfectly good reason for His command that the people completely destroy the inhabitants of the land. He knew full well that their refusal to eradicate the land’s occupants would lead to their abandonment of Him and their pursuit of other gods. They would end up turning their backs on God and, therefore, He would be forced to turn His back on them. “So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hands of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies” (Judges 2:14 ESV). God could not and would not tolerate their disobedience. So rather than God’s presence and power going before them, the Israelites found themselves fighting without Him. Their efforts would prove futile. Their strength would be insufficient for the task. And rather than being able to enjoy the fruits of the land promised to them by God, they found themselves “in terrible distress” (Judges 2:15 ESV). The book of Judges records one of the saddest periods of time in the long history of the people of Israel. It contains a repetitive cycle of sin and rebellion, but it is also marked by the enduring patience and faithfulness of God. While He would give them over to their enemies as punishment for their open rebellion against Him, He would never fully give them up. “Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them” (Judges 2:18 ESV). The people would sin. God would give them over to their enemies. The people would cry out in despair. God would hear and send a judge who would deliver them. Then in time, the people would abandon God again, and the cycle would repeat itself. Rebellion – Remorse – Rescue – Restoration – Repeat. That is the pattern of the book of Judges. But God’s faithfulness is in full view throughout the entirety of the book. He never gives up. He never fully abandons them – in spite of them.
What does this passage reveal about man?
Over in the book of Acts, we have recorded the early history of the spread of the Gospel as Paul and the other apostles make their way around the known world of their day. In obedience to Christ’s commission, they had begun in Jerusalem, moved on to Judea and Samaria, and were now moving out to the ends of the earth. In chapter 18, we have Paul visiting Corinth, Caesarea, Syria, Antioch, Galatia and Phrygia. And in almost every city he visited, Paul found himself facing intense opposition and threats on his life. He was seeing tremendous response to the Gospel message, but with each conversion, the enemies of God seemed to increase in number and intensity. And yet God gave Paul a vision, telling him, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people” (Acts 19:9-10 ESV). God assured Paul of His presence and power. He let him know that obedience to His will was Paul’s only concern. God would take care of the rest. Paul was still going to face opposition. He would still encounter threats on his life. But He would know that God was with Him. I am reminded of the words of the Psalmist, “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6 ESV). Those same words are echoed in the book of Hebrews. “So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:6 ESV). The key was Paul’s obedience. He was expected to faithfully carry out his God-given assignment, in the face of opposition and in spite of potential setbacks. He had to do His part. But he could rest in the knowledge that God was there with Him, doing His part, each step of the way.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
What an amazing contrast. What a powerful reminder of the need for obedience in the life of the follower of God. We all tend to want to enjoy the blessings of God, but too often we refuse to live in obedience to His will. At times we question it. Sometimes we rationalize reasons to ignore it. There are plenty of times we simply choose to twist it into something that is more palatable to our senses and appealing to our own desires. The Israelites were guilty of trying to do God’s will in their own way, and their half-hearted obedience resulted in whole-hearted rebellion against Him. Paul’s assignment was no less easier than theirs. He faced just as much opposition and potential danger to life and limb. But he obeyed. He persevered. He listened to the Word of God and obeyed. God did not remove the obstacles or eliminate the opposition. He simply assured Paul of His presence, protection and power. As long as Paul did the will of God, he could be confident to receive the help of God. It is far too easy to question God’s will when things don’t seem to go the way we think they should. Obstacles tend to come across to us as signs that we are somehow out of God’s will. Difficulties are too often viewed as proof of God’s absence, but God never promised us an absence of trouble. He simply promised us access to His abiding presence and power. After Paul’s vision from God, his efforts did not become any easier and his opposition did not become any less intense. But he continued to do the will of God in full confidence that He had the full and abiding presence of God. Like Paul, I want to learn to trust God as I increasingly learn to obey Him. I want to say as he did, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31 ESV). Paul was able to speak those words because he had experienced their reality in his daily life. He had seen them proven true time and time again, in spite of death threats, stonings, beatings, imprisonments, setbacks, false accusations, fruitless sermons, unfaithful disciples, and physical infirmities. Paul was able to keep on keeping on because he knew that God was with him. As long as he remained obedient to the call of God on his life, he knew he would have the presence of God in his life.
Father, may I learn to live like Paul. But too often my life can be characterized by the repetitive cycle of rebellion, remorse and rescue found in the book of Judges. Help me to live in obedience to You, regardless of the circumstances. I don’t want trouble, trials, opposition or difficulties to cause me to abandon my hope in You or fail to live in obedience to You. You are with me. And if You are with me, who can stand against me?
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men